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THE SPOILERS : Last Jewel of Triple Crown Has Been Stolen 11 Times--Will Sunday Silence Be Next Victim of an Upset?

June 04, 1989|BILL CHRISTINE | Times Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. — The kind of horse that becomes the Triple Crown spoiler in the Belmont Stakes doesn't resemble an Easy Goer or a Hawkster.

If there's a skunk in the weeds when Sunday Silence tries to become the 12th Triple Crown champion at Belmont Park next Saturday, his name is more likely to be Imbibe or Fire Maker, horses who stayed on the sidelines while the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were being run.

Imbibe and Fire Maker are 3-year-olds who go into the 121st Belmont as relative strangers to fans who have only been paying attention to Sunday Silence's victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But for New York horseplayers with a sense of Belmont history, Imbibe and Fire Maker have familiar backgrounds that have led to upsets when Triple Crown sweeps have been possible before.

Imbibe and Fire Maker skipped the first two Triple Crown races, as did six other horses before whipping a Belmont opponent who had already won the Derby and the Preakness. In addition, five Derby-Preakness winners were beaten in the Belmont by horses who also had run in the first two Triple Crown races.

These are the six who waited for the Belmont:

--Bounding Home, who beat Pensive by a half-length in 1944.

--Cavan, who won in 1958 by six lengths over Tim Tam.

--Stage Door Johnny, running one of the fastest races in Belmont history, was the winner by 1 1/4 lengths over Forward Pass in 1968.

--Pass Catcher, at 34-1, was the 1971 winner as Canonero II struggled home fourth.

--Coastal finished first in 1979, with Spectacular Bid running third.

--And Summing was the Belmont winner in 1981, beating the third-place Pleasant Colony by 1 1/2 lengths.

Stage Door Johnny saved the Triple Crown the awkwardness of having a champion with an asterisk. Forward Pass won the Preakness on the track, but got his Derby victory on a disqualification that was still in dispute when the '68 Belmont was run.

Dancer's Image had beaten Forward Pass by 1 1/2 lengths in the Derby, but phenylbutazone--today's popular painkiller than was prohibited in Kentucky then--was found in Dancer's Image's system during a postrace urinalysis. The issue bounced around courts for years before Dancer's Image's disqualification was upheld.

The five other Triple Crown spoilers:

--Sherluck, who paid a record $132.10 when he beat Carry Back in 1961.

--Quadrangle, at the expense of Northern Dancer in 1964.

--Amberoid, who upset Kauai King in 1966.

--Arts and Letters, over Majestic Prince in 1969.

--And Bet Twice, who thwarted Alysheba in 1987.

Sherluck, as did Hawkster this year, finished fifth in both the Derby and the Preakness; Quadrangle was fifth and fourth in the first two races; Amberoid was seventh and third; and Arts and Letters and Bet Twice finished second twice.

Four of the Triple Crown's party poopers--Cavan, Quadrangle, Stage Door Johnny and Coastal--had something else in common. They all had a race over the track going into the Belmont, with Cavan and Coastal having won the Peter Pan, the same stake that Imbibe won with a stretch move here a week ago.

Fire Maker had two outings at Belmont last month, winning the Withers in his first start in six months, then running fourth after a slow beginning in the Peter Pan.

On paper, Imbibe and Fire Maker do not appear to have much chance against Sunday Silence, who but for a neck and a head would be undefeated, as was 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew going into the Belmont. The next best 3-year-old this year has been Easy Goer, who was second, beaten by 2 1/2 lengths, in the Derby before he was nosed out by Sunday Silence in the Preakness.

Of the 10 prospective Belmont starters, only three--Sunday Silence, Easy Goer and Hawkster--appeared in the first two Triple Crown races. Hawkster was fifth in both the 1 1/4-mile Derby and the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, and now trainer Ron McAnally is saying that the 1 1/2-mile Belmont should be his colt's favorite distance.

However, a horse who closes ground in the shorter Triple Crown races doesn't always work his way to the winner's circle simply because of the Belmont's longer distance.

Amberoid sort of won his Belmont that way, making him an exception. After stumbling at the start in the Derby, Amberoid was a late-running third in the Preakness. His Belmont needs to be footnoted, however, because it was one of five run at Belmont Park's sister track, Aqueduct, during the 1960s.

The Belmont at Belmont Park is another matter, because the track's circumference--the longest in the United States--is the same as the distance of the race. It's one time around for the 1 1/2 miles. The sweeping turns are unlike those at any other American track; Bill Shoemaker, who won the Belmont five times, says that the Triple Crown finale is especially tricky to ride in because jockeys so seldom are asked to ride for 1 1/2 miles.

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